What’s getting lots hotter? Ad blocking.
It's up 31 percent, spurred by concerns about privacy
August 13, 2015
This fall when Apple releases its latest operating system, iOS 9, it will include ad blocking capabilities for the first time, a move that’s expected to spark an uptick in ad blocking. It’s a trend that’s already been growing, according to a new report from Kelly Scott Madison, a Chicago agency. The report finds a 31 percent increase in the number of people who installed ad blocking technology on their mobile, desktop or laptop devices last year. Some of this may have been spurred by concerns about privacy. However, the report also notes there’s some confusion among the general public about what ad blocking is and how it can be used. Many people don’t know the difference between ad blocking and cookie restrictions, which may have led to some inflated usage numbers for ad blocking. With the release of iOS 9, there’s bound to be more interest in the topic as people try to figure out what their Apple devices are capable of. Kelly Scott Madison’s Elizabeth Kalmbach, vice president and group media director, and Kay Wesolowski, vice president and digital media director, talk to Media Life about what ad blockers do, who’s most likely to use them, and what media buyers and planners need to understand about them.
For the purposes of this report, what do you define as ad-blocking technology? Can you give an example?
Wesolowski: Ad-blocking technology is any type of browser plug-in that works to target and prohibit the various forms of digital advertising that would normally be served to users during their online experience.
An example of this would be Adblock Plus, a tool we cited in this report.
What prompted you to look into ad blocking?
Wesolowski: It’s obviously an important topic for the industry, and recently quite a few articles have been released about the subject.
Many of these pieces had some basic information but didn’t really address the big picture. Namely, they lacked helpful context and perspective about what current usage trends mean for advertisers and brands.
For instance, many know that the number of active ad-blocker users worldwide now stands at about 145 million people. Sounds like a big number, until you realize that this accounts for just 5 percent of total internet users.
Adblock Plus, one of the more popular tools, is currently being used on average by less than 1 percent (0.6212 percent, to be exact) of web users worldwide.
Some articles also avoided the fact that reputable agencies and brands would never advocate targeting users who wish to opt-out of this targeting method, so there were clearly some valuable angles that had yet to be addressed.
Obviously online ads have been around for a while, so why is ad blocking now on the rise?
Kalmbach: Some attribute a rise to the fact that more web browsers today than, say, five years ago, come with blocking technology already built in.
Additionally, Apple announced that its new iOS 9 platform will include mobile ad-blocking capabilities for all Apple devices.
So while many studies have shown that the public generally feels indifferent about online advertising–especially when it’s linked to receiving free or low-cost content–an uptick in browsers and devices offering this capability out of the box will obviously push usage higher.
Interestingly, though, our research found that while the rate of those who installed ad blocking technology last year compared to the span of two to five years ago increased by 31 percent, 76 percent of those same respondents later stated they do not plan to add a blocker within the next year.
This indicates that for the time being a majority of those concerned enough about online ads to take action have already done so.
What type of concerns about privacy do people have that might spark them to use ad-blocking technology?
Kalmbach: Consumers are interesting in that the theory of privacy concerns them, but daily conveniences and the realities of their internet experiences make them less consistently aware of potential privacy risks online.
Our findings showed this when we asked internet users if they trusted companies to use consumer data appropriately. Only 47 percent did, and 84 percent believe their data is consistently shared with third parties.
However, when we dug deeper to discern where the most distrust lies, we found something intriguing.
Just under 75 percent reported the most privacy comfort with their cable or satellite providers and only 55 percent were comfortable with mobile apps. The glaring difference between the two is that mobile apps deliver a warning any time they access consumer information and cable or satellite providers, for the most part, do not.
This means consumers are more aware of granting a certain level of privacy access in apps on a daily basis than they are while watching TV, even if they don’t understand what that access is exactly.
The 2015 Media and Privacy Study (MPS) also found that sharing online behavior information doesn’t bother the average consumer, though they might think it’s slightly creepy, as much as identity theft and possible credit card theft do.
When you’ve entered your credit card information into an app and it tells you it’s pulling data off your phone and tracking your location every day, you’re far more likely to fear the worst of the app developers and advertisers.
Make no mistake, emerging ad blocking software creators will feed off these fears in order to sell their technology, and the ad industry needs to gear up for a consumer education campaign the likes of which we have not yet seen.
Is ad blocking of more interest to younger people as opposed to older ones?
Kalmbach: Actually, one of the surprising points we found in our research study was that ad blocking isn’t necessarily of more interest to younger consumers.
Consumers of all ages expressed concern about privacy, and older age segments were actually slightly more likely to have actively taken steps to ensure their online privacy. This could be because they are more cynical about how their data is used than younger generations, and it could be because they have the money and wherewithal to pursue ad-blocking technology purchases.
Recent discussions have focused on concern about younger segments because they are so tech-savvy.
The bigger questions is, will a new generation of technologically comfortable consumers more readily download ad-blocking software as it becomes available on a mass scale?
Is cookie blocking widely understood?
Wesolowski: In general yes, but not in the same way as we think about it within the ad industry. Most consumers do not understand the difference between blocking first- and third-party cookies or the differences between “clearing your cookies” and using ad-blocking software.
Research varies, but approximately 30 percent of adults are actively limiting or restricting websites from gathering web cookies.
When it comes to the utilization of an ad-blocking technology, our 2015 MPS found that a little less than 50 percent say they do.
Though this percentage is far higher in comparison to many recent global counts, which as we mentioned before come in at around 5 percent of all internet users, this likely indicates some level of confusion over the difference between ad blocking technology and cookie data restriction.
Furthermore, the ad industry has not done a great job educating consumers around cookie data collection, and the fact that brands are not leveraging personally identifiable information from cookies.
The message that cookie data provides brands the opportunity to give consumers a better and far more relevant ad experience needs to be more clearly communicated.
How can media buyers and planners utilize this ad blocking trend information?
Kalmbach: As with any media, we plan for the here and now.
Ad blocking hasn’t reached anything close to critical mass and we’re still in early days of the Apple ad blocking rollout. We need to watch the marketplace and urge clients to be 100 percent transparent in their communication with customers.
Actively educating customers in how they use consumer data, when it is necessary and what data is gathered is absolutely essential for all advertisers.
Otherwise, too many consumers will misunderstand how their data is being handled, and consumers’ fear of the unknown could become damaging to the future of online advertising.
Do you think cookies will continue to be problematic for advertisers?
Wesolowski: Yes, but the industry will also continue to evolve and find solutions to effectively reach their right audiences.
Case in the point: The biggest challenge and more interesting conversation is not cookie blocking but rather tying disparate cookies from different devices to one user.
As more brands are eager to shift to richer cross-channel marketing strategies, identifying a universal ID–identifying the same user on different devices–is going to be imperative.
This poses a challenge for most brands since it requires not only the right data but also a significant investment in internal platforms and processes. It is for this reason that large publishers with deterministic data (login information) such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo are increasingly touting their data-driven, cross-device targeting capabilities.
A user can both delete and block their third-party cookies all day long, but these properties have first-party login data for their users, most of whom are accessing content across multiple devices.
Brands will increasingly turn to these walled-garden solutions to overcome the cross-device cookie challenge and execute on their cross-channel strategies.
After nearly 18 years, it’s time to say good-bye
Yet more evidence native advertising doesn’t work
A new type of cord-cutting: Snipping broadband
Coming, the collapse of radio’s iHeartMedia
Weeklies: Surviving if not thriving in digital age
Tweeter in chief: How Trump could save Twitter
Shows Trump hates are seeing big ad gains
Broadcast vs. cable: How the top shows stack up
A sign that coughs at your cigarette smoke
The word: Time Inc. sale is imminent
Rundown: Which advertisers have jumped from YouTube
Media Life’s Digital Media Transparency Initiative
HBO does hard time with Dwayne Johnson
- Arun Kumar becomes chief data and marketing tech officer at IPG
- Jenny Campbell rises to managing director at 72andSunny
- Adam Crandall becomes director of strategy at mono
- Mark Wildman rises to EVP of partnerships at Westwood One
- Kevin Craig rises to SVP of newspaper relations at AMG/Parade
- Bill Corvalan becomes VP of West Coast partnerships at AllOver Media
- Richard Just becomes editor at The Washington Post Magazine
- Gemma Lawson rises to VP and design director at Nickelodeon
- Ashley Judd joins Epix' 'Berlin Station'
- Former NBC ad sales executive Robert Blackmore dies at age 90
This week’s broadcast ratings
This week’s cable ratings
This week’s top-rated movies, songs and books
This week’s daypart ratings
This month’s digital traffic data: December 2016
Ad sales rep for a digital-only magazine
Freelance media planner/buyer available for all markets
Wanted: Media buyer in Philadelphia
Paid social media planner wanted in Detroit
Opening for a media planner at a top OOH agency